Since his accident many years ago, Ryan Shay of Yarmouth has never focused on what he can’t do. For him it’s always been about what he can do, and even the things he hasn’t done but is excited to try. And he wants to share this motivation with others.
He has developed Shay’s Opportunities for Disabled Youth and he’s organizing a camp with a safe and inclusive environment for up to 14 participants aged 7-18.
The camp is being designed for participants with a physical disability who have upper body mobility and strength. The purpose of the camp – which will be held Aug. 22-24 at the NSCC Akerley Campus in Dartmouth – is to learn about the basic fundamentals of physical literacy through the practice of para multi-sports.
Shay has always been an athlete, both before and after a single-vehicle collision in January 2013 that left him a quadriplegic. After that life-changing experience he went from recoverying in hospital and not be able to sit up on his own for more than 30 seconds with extreme limited mobility in his hands, to training and competing in several para sports with wheelchair racing and track at the top of the list.
He’s also competed in wheelchair basketball and has given sledge hockey a try. Recently, he’s been approached by Row Nova Scotia to get involved in that sport, he says.
Shay is a firm believer of the many benefits that come from sports and a can-do attitude. He wants to share this with young people.
“There’s lot of camps in the province in Nova Scotia – some camps that cater to all kids and some camps that do cater to kids with disabilities. But those camps don’t really include multiple sports and physical activity,” Shay says.
“A lot of research has shown how important it is to train in multiple different disciplines, even just in one sport,” he says. “There are so many benefits, obviously, to be physically active. But there is a lack of kids with disabilities getting involved so I want to do something that caters to them, so they felt like they could go out there comfortably and really get involved.”
And he knows there is interest based on a smaller camp he put together in 2017.
A challenge, of course, is finding a place that is both accessible and central – and also has the numbers to support it – which is why he focused on the Akerley campus this time around.
The camp will include three fun days of basketball, athletics, rugby and bocce ball, all adapted for youth with physical disabilities. To add to the fun aspect, there will also be a scavenger hunt, relay race and pizza party.
Shay says he’s looking forward to giving disabled youth the opportunity to make new friendships, interact with great volunteers and try a new sport or activity.
“We want to educate youth with disabilities, and their parents as well, of the importance of basic physical literacy and we want everyone to feel included,” Shay says.
Shay himself is not taking part in sporting competitions these days, but he is still training and keeping in shape because he never wants to close that door. Years ago he set his sights on the Paralympics. He never wants to rule out being there one day.
“There are people who are para wheelchair racers who race until they’re 50 years old. There are para rugby players who play until they’re 50, so it’s still in the future hopefully,” he says.
But in the more immediate future, he’s looking to make a difference with other youth. “I really want to give back,” he says.
The fee for the camp will be around $80, although the final figure will be dependent on the number of participants there are.
Shay hopes to hear from people by Aug. 15 if they are interested. You can contact Shay by email at [email protected] for more info or to register.
Partners in Shay’s venture include Ignite, Easter Seals, ParaSportNS and NSCC.
Shay says himself being exposed to others with disabilities in a sporting atmosphere has been inspiring for him and he feels it can be for other youth.
“It really opens the window of opportunity for you in your brain,” he says. “You realize, wow, there are actually different ways to get around this and to get around that and I’m just as able as a lot of other people so why can’t I do it.”